Sleep Apnea

As many as 18 million Americans have obstructive sleep apnea, and the majority don’t realize they have the condition. Sleep apnea can lead to health issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and impotence, and can cause complications during surgery.

Obstructive sleep apnea means that the soft tissue at the back of your throat collapses and closes while you sleep, causing you to stop breathing. Your body restarts your breathing by waking you up. This cycle can happen many times — possibly hundreds — during the night.

Anyone can suffer from sleep apnea — even children — but it is most common in men over age 40 who are overweight. If you think you may have sleep apnea, here are some signs to look out for:

  • Feeling tired You wake up not feeling refreshed or find you’re frequently tired throughout the day.
  • Difficulty staying asleep – You stop breathing, so your body wakes you up repeatedly.
  • Snoring – You’ve been told you often snore or stop breathing during the night.
  • Moving a lot at night – Your legs or arms jerk while you’re asleep, or you toss and turn a lot during the night.
  • Making snorting noises while you sleep – You make abrupt snorting noises during your sleep, which indicate that you’ve stopped breathing and are trying to catch your breath.

Thoughtful man trying to sleep in his bed at night

How does sleep apnea affect anesthesia?

Anesthesia, especially general anesthesia, can be dangerous for people with obstructive sleep apnea. The condition makes anesthesia riskier because it slows down breathing and can make you more sensitive to its effects. Sleep apnea also can make it more difficult to regain consciousness and take a breath after surgery.

The condition makes anesthesia riskier because it slows down breathing and can make you more sensitive to its effects.

What can you do to reduce your risk?

If you have, or think you might have, obstructive sleep apnea, the most important thing you can do to reduce risks from anesthesia is talk to your physician or surgeon to be sure your anesthesia care is led by an anesthesiologist — before, during, and after surgery.

The anesthesiologist will discuss your symptoms and precautions that can be taken to decrease potential complications, including monitoring even more closely during and after surgery and choosing certain anesthesia medications over others. The anesthesiologist also will provide you with guidelines to follow in preparing for surgery.